**** Just a quick addendum to this post since it seems to be spreading around like wildfire. What I posted is how I do things, and most definitely not the ONLY way to do things. This is strictly my opinion, and what works for me. I figured that throwing out a few basics with lighting would be helpful to those just starting out, or afraid of studio lights. If you have questions, feel free to leave them in the comments. ****
I can’t believe it’s been over a year since I’ve done a FAQ post! Now that I’m home and resting from back surgery, I actually have time to tackle this and do it well. Let’s get started!!
1. “Why did you switch to studio lights?”
This is the most common question I get. I made the switch from natural light to strobe/studio lighting in 2011, and haven’t looked back. I find it is easiest to use lights if you have a studio, but not impossible to do on-location either. I would get frustrated on cloudy, dark winter days that I had to raise my ISO, I never have to worry about the weather with studio lights.
Why do I prefer studio lights? They are consistent, your white balance stays the same the whole time, your exposure stays the same (unless you adjust the light’s power), you can shoot at ISO100 producing the best quality images with no noise. You can also control and sculpt the the light with them which gives you very precise control over your shadowing, which in newborn photography is super important.
I had a few photographer friends who made the switch over a year ago and was loving their results, so I decided to try the Einstein for myself. I can tell you with complete certainty that the Einstein’s light quality is a million times better than the AB400.
I find it’s more consistent in color and power output shot for shot. It’s also faster so you don’t ever miss a shot. With both lights, I was able to shoot pretty wide open, but the Einstein I can shoot even wider open. The digital display definitely doesn’t hurt either, it’s just easier to use and a better quality product.
By far though, what sold me on this light was the skin tones and color you are able to get SOOC (straight out of the camera). The AB400 shot very, very red and most newborns tend to have red undertones in their skin, so I spent a LOT of time trying to take the red out of their skin in post processing.
Here is a side by side comparison. Both shots taken within minutes of each other, camera settings the same, light placement the same, white balance the same, and both images are SOOC and I’d say that hands down, the better image is from the Eienstein:
4. “What settings do you use on your light to shoot a newborn? What about a baby? A family?”
I tend to shoot babies on the beanbag between f/2.0-f/2.5. I do this purposely so that the blanket fades off nicely in the background. I’ve seen people stop down a bit and then fade the blanket in Photoshop, but I prefer to fade my blanket in camera. Plus, it just looks pretty.
I love how the blanket’s striped texture is visible in the foreground but fades out in the background and is nice and blurry. This image was shot at f/2.2.
Prop shots (single baby) are also shot around f/2.0-f/2.2, again because I want everything to fade off into the background.
All you have to do when you are using studio lights to switch f-stops is adjust the power setting on your light. Here you can see my Einstein & AB400 settings when shooting at f/2.2 in camera.
I typically shoot more than 2 people at f/3.5-f/4.5 so that every person is in focus. When I’m shooting from above, I use my 24-70 2.8L so that I can get a wider angle than my 50 1.2L, so I tend to shoot at f/2.8-f/3.2 on these shots. If I’m siblings from above, I’m usually at f/3.5-f/4.5.
5. What softbox do you use and why? Where exactly do you put your sofbox to get nice shadows?
I LOVE my Westcott Apollo 50×50 Softbox. It’s BIG, but the larger the light source, the softer the light. The recessed edges make it super easy to control your shadows and it’s super versatile, I can use it on Newborns, Maternity, Babies & Families. I have also used it creatively on location for these CrossFit Maternity images.
I always aim to feather my light so that I get nice light going down the baby’s body, the shadows help define their tiny little features. My light is always placed about 90 degrees shining down the head/face.
Here is the correct way to place the softbox to get ideal shadows/even lighting for newborns:
Here are a few pullbacks from that “correct” setup:
And the resulting correctly lit image SOOC (straight out of the camera):
One mistake I see often is people place the edge of the box or light source (window/sliding glass door) BEHIND the babies head. Doing this gives deeper shadows and “black holes” for eyes since the light is not feathering/skimming down the front of the baby, instead baby is being lit from the front and the back.
Here’s the resulting image from that “bad” placement, the differences are not huge, but definitely noticeable, especially in the eye sockets as they are dark and unlit.
One of my BIGGEST pet peeves is flatly lit newborn images. I find that lighting a newborn flatly is not flattering to their little features, here you can see the placement of a light for this situation:
Too much light coming in FRONT of the baby and not cascading DOWN the baby gives you very little shadowing as seen in the resulting image here:
The flatly lit image converted to black and light will look horrible & muddy.
The image with the softbox placed so that the light is perfectly feathered, the black and white conversion has much more depth and contrast.
Another mistake I see is “butt lighting”, where the light source is placed at the baby’s rear instead of head. This produces a scary “ghoul” look and should NEVER be done.
6. “How do you balance your photography business and home life with two young children?”
This is hard for ANY working mama, but obviously most important. My family ALWAYS comes first. I run my studio like a 9-5 job M-F so I do have full time childcare during the week. My older son is in Kinder now, but it’s only half day here so he goes to an afterschool program until I pick them up around 3:30 or 4 every day. I shoot newborns ONLY on weekdays (which is the bulk of my business), and will take one weekend session a week, that’s it. I try to always schedule one weekend without sessions monthly so that we have flexibility to get out of town to my Dad’s farm.
I only edit during business hours when my kids are at school or at night after they are in bed. When they are home, I TRY to not do any work on the computer, this is the same on weekends too. Am I perfect? NO, but I try. I spent the first 1.5 years of my business as a weekend warrior, jamming 4-5 sessions in to every weekend while working a 9-5 corporate job. It was a HUGE sacrifice I had to make to build my business, so I don’t regret it, but it was miserable for me and my oldest son.
If you are going to be away from your kids, please make sure you are compensated for that time. I see too many photographers shooting 200, even 300 sessions a year charging peanuts for their work. Not only does that work out to minimum wage, that’s a lot of time away from the family. CHARGE FOR YOUR TIME. Do the math and figure out what you need to pay yourself in salary, and work your way back. Don’t forget taxes will take 30-40% of your gross sales!
7. ”What do you use to prop/support babies when posing them on their sides/tummies?”
I use rolled up receiving blankets! You can see them on the floor in the pullbacks posted above. I have 5 or 6 blankets on top of my vinyl extra large puck beanbag and slide the rolled up blankets under the bottom layer and adjust or add more as needed to get the pose to my liking.
8. “Who are some of your favorite vendors for fabrics, hats, props?
I get all of my beanbag fabrics & maternity gowns (that’s coming soon!!!) from Roses & Ruffles, she’s not only super duper nice, but she ships very fast and her prices are very reasonable. She has the BEST selection of fabrics. Here are a few favorite fabrics/backdrops I have from Roses & Ruffles:
This blue is gorgeous!
This is my all time favorite purple!
Gorgeous green with little sparkles!
9. “I was wondering how you resolve the issue of selling digital files to customers.”
I offer them but I’m priced so that I cover my expenses and pay myself a salary, I refuse to sell digital files for cheap. I covered this issue in depth here.
10. ”I’ve been having so many issues with posing. I can never seem to get a baby to sleep enough to let me position them and can never seem to duplicate a pose from one baby to the next. My question is how do you pose your little ones? How do you ensure the same poses from one baby to the next and transition into other poses.”
PATIENCE!!! When the baby arrives at my studio, they are usually asleep from the car ride over, I will then take them out of their carseat myself (not the parents) and get started slowly undressing them while keeping them asleep. I take as long as I need to do this to keep them asleep, this can sometimes take 20 minutes! It’s worth it to be patient to keep them asleep.
Once they are undressed and undiapered, I wrap them in a soft, warm blanket and pose them in my arms before laying them on the beanbag. I usually start with either “tushy in the air pose” or the “taco” pose on the beanbag first and I always pose them in my lap/hands and not on the beanbag. Once they are in these poses on their tummies, they tend to settle faster and I’m able to move onto other poses and keep them asleep.
“tushy in air” pose:
or “taco” pose, these are both my usual go-to starting poses.
I have a very specific method and workflow with newborn sessions and I cover this in depth at my in-person workshops! The next workshop is on May 12th in my Leesburg, Virginia studio and I still have openings for students. My workshops are small (max of 6 students) and my students get a lot of one on one instruction from me. Here are a few photos from my last workshop taken by my very good friend Lou!
I cover a lot of other frequently asked questions in my older FAQ posts, you can see all of those here.
Hope this was helpful!